Jared Cohen, keeping Iranians twittering


The State Department staffer who asked Twitter not to shut down for maintenance earlier this week so that Iranians could keep communicating with the world is a 27-year-old Jewish Stanford University graduate who is the youngest member of the State Department policy planning staff, reports the New York Times:

On Monday afternoon, a 27-year-old State Department official, Jared Cohen, e-mailed the social-networking site Twitter with an unusual request: delay scheduled maintenance of its global network, which would have cut off service while Iranians were using Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests around Tehran.

The request, made to a Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, is yet another new-media milestone: the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country. …

Twitter complied with the request, saying in a blog post on Monday that it put off the upgrade until late Tuesday afternoon — 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Tehran — because its partners recognized “the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.” The network was working normally again by Tuesday evening.

BayNewser has some background on Cohen:

Cohen was only 24 when he was hired into the Policy Planning Staff back in 2006. He’d received an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a master’s degree from Oxford, where he’d been on a Rhodes Scholarship. Oh, and he’d also talked his way into a visa for Iran (according to a December 2007 New Yorker profile), where he met young people his own age who threw underground house parties and made alcohol in bathtubs.

"Iranian young people are one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East," Cohen told the New Yorker. "They just don’t know who to gravitate around, so young people gravitate around each other."

Cohen compiled his observations from that trip—and others to Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq—into a book released by Penguin, titled Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East (selected, by the way, as one of Kirkus Review’s "Best Books of 2007").

The site also has a little more about what Cohen is doing at State:

In May, Cohen, whom CNN chose as one of its "Young People Who Rock," organized a trip to Iraq for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other new media executives "to discuss how to rebuild the country’s information network and to sell the virtues of Twitter," as the Times put it.

According to Federal News Radio, Dorsey has now been working with mobile companies in the Middle East "to establish a short code so that Iraqis can get on Twitter without actually having to have access to the internet."

"I’m a strong believer in the fact that access drives innovation," Cohen told Federal News Radio. "In order for young people to have their innovative minds tapped into, they need to have access to the tools to do it, and I believe that cellphones and the internet will bring that."

The Baynewser piece also includes video of an appearance Cohen made on the Colbert Report, in which he discusses, among other things, telling members of Hezbollah that he is Jewish.

And speaking of Twitter, the Jerusalem Post reports that it is being accused of being part of an "puported Israeli conspiracy to stoke unrest in the Islamic republic":

In an online article entitled "Proof: Israeli Effort to Destabilize Iran Via Twitter" published on the Charting Stocks Web site, the unnamed writer charges: "right-wing Israeli interests are engaged in an all out Twitter attack with hopes of delegitimizing the Iranian election and causing political instability within Iran."

The "proof" cited was an online entry published on Sunday on the Post’s "The Persian Abyss" blog, in which three very active Iranian Twitterers, whose tweets are still widely circulated, were mentioned as part of an online documentation of Iranians’ reaction to the election results on social media outlets [their usernames were later taken down to protect them].

The article went on: "JPost, a major news organization, promoted these three Twitterers who went on to be the source of the IranElection Twitter bombardment. Why is JPost so concerned about Iranian students all of a sudden (which these spammers claim to be)? I must admit that I had my suspicions. After all, Que Bono? (who benefits)."

The Post responded:

"Needless to say, our coverage of events in Iran is guided solely by professional journalistic considerations," said the managing editor of The Jerusalem Post’s Web site, www.jpost.com, Shani Rosenfelder.  

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